A 'New Era' for Algeria?

Algeria's was the election that wasn't. A large field of candidates was to have competed in the April 15 balloting. But all save one withdrew at the last minute, charging the vote was rigged in favor of the military's candidate.

The one who remained has come to be seen as that candidate. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a former foreign minister, ended up with 75 percent of a turnout officially set at 60 percent of eligible voters - despite the drastically reduced field. The turnout figure, understandably, is viewed with skepticism.

All this is tragic for a country that has endured eight years of chronic political violence since an election was overturned by the military in 1991. The reason the Army stepped in then was surging support for what was perceived as a radical Islamic party. But radicalism turned into mindless extremism as the Army and Islamic militias fought each other. Too often, extremists' targets were not military but civilian. Thousands of innocent villagers, including women and children, were savagely murdered.

It was hoped that last week's election would begin a process of restoring civil society in Algeria. That hope has dimmed with suspicions that Mr. Bouteflika's administration will perpetuate the military-radicals tension, not ease it. The new president, however, has vowed to work toward a "new era."

That would necessitate involving a wider range of Algerians in the country's governance, including the Islamists, many of whom are political moderates. Without a broad national consensus, the policies needed to lift Algeria out of economic stagnation and rampant joblessness aren't likely to take hold.

But most of all, a bona fide new era would require the Army's retreat from civilian politics. Only then can the seeds of democracy in this potentially prosperous North African nation have any chance of germinating.

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